Bristol, June 2013. Bristol City look set to become the first club in the UK to incorporate safe standing rail seat areas into their ground. That's what will happen if a proposed £40m development of Ashton Gate goes ahead. And the new rail seat areas could be open and in use by August 2015.
Bristol City to pioneer safe standing rail seats
This is where I have to declare an interest: Bristol City is the club I've supported all my life, so I'm delighted to see them leading the way as the first club in the UK to propose a stadium development that incorporates rail seats.
The only sad thing about the plans is that unless the rules change between now and August 2015 only supporters of the club's new groundshare partners, Bristol Rugby, will be allowed to stand at the rail seats. For football games the stadium will still have to offer only "seated accommodation", so the rail seats will be unlocked to enable them to be used as seats.
Bristol Sport, the parent company that owns the football and rugby clubs, have provided for 3,152 rail seats in a refurbished Dolman Stand (opposite the dug-outs) and a new end stand (pictured above) that will replace the Wedlock Stand (in part of which away fans are currently housed). Once completed, Ashton Gate will hold 26,500 in all-seater mode and up to 29,000 with standing in rail seat areas.
As indicated above, however, only Bristol Rugby Club will be able to offer the rail seats in standing mode, as current legislation prohibits clubs with all-seater grounds from converting any part back into a standing area, even if, like Bristol City, they have dropped down below the Championship and would otherwise be allowed to offer standing.
The inconsistent, illogical nature of current legislation is perfectly highlighted here – the authorities are perfectly happy to allow standing in rail seated areas, so long as the ball is oval, not round! However, this shouldn’t detract from the pioneering proposals put forward by Bristol City, who will be lobbying for the redeveloped Ashton Gate (pictured right looking from the Atyeo Stand) to be used as a pilot site for a safe standing trial. These plans come hot on the heels of the vote passed by 55 out of the 72 Football League clubs recently at their AGM, where they approved a motion to “explore the steps necessary” to run safe standing trials.
Rail seat areas to open August 2015
The redevelopment plans for Ashton Gate run alongside an exisiting proposal to build a new ground at nearby Ashton Vale, the design of which also includes provision for rail seats. An inquiry into those plans opens in October with the club aiming to decide on which project to proceed with by the end of the year. If they decide to redevelop Ashton Gate, work is scheduled to begin in the spring of 2014 and the new home end and refurbished Dolman Stand (left in the picture above) are set to open in August 2015.
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